Seattle University women’s basketball coach Joan Bonvicini celebrated her 1,000th game coached on Nov. 14 against cross-town rival University of Washington. The game began with Coach Bonvicini being introduced and presented with the game ball.
Once the ball was up, however, the mood changed from celebratory to cutthroat, as the Redhawks looked to avenge last year’s defeat at Alaska Airlines arena. The Redhawks got on the board first on a three-pointer from senior Ashley Ward before quick baskets put UW up by two. After trading baskets, the Redhawks were able to extend the lead to eight midway through the first half, capitalizing on fastbreak opportunities offered by steals from senior Daidra Brown and junior Sylvia Shephard.
UW didn’t take long to respond however, cutting the lead with three-pointers from standout point guard Jazmine Davis. The run continued for the Huskies, fueled by steals and transition baskets.
At the half, the Huskies led by five.
The second half started much like the first, as teams traded baskets. The UW lead hovered around five points until a small Seattle U run restored the lead to the Redhawks. It wouldn’t last long however as Washington junior and All-Pac 12 honoree Kristi Kingma hit two shots from downtown to put the visitors
Another UW run stretched the lead to double digits with five minutes remaining. The Redhawks weren’t able to chip away at the lead until five quick points from Ward cut the lead to four points with just a 1:23 to play. Two missed free-throws gave the Redhawks life, and offensive rebounding kept the play alive long enough for Shephard to knock down a three, cutting the lead to just one point with 20 seconds to play. Mercedes Wetmore stepped to the line for the Huskies with a chance to stretch the lead to three, but missed the front end of the one-and-one, leaving the ball game in the hands of the Redhawks.
After a 30-second timeout called by Bonvicini, Shephard got a look for a three-pointer but was off the mark, the offensive rebound falling to Brown. Brown was fouled, giving her two shots with her team down one point. The first one didn’t fall, but the she was able to nail the second, sending the game into overtime.
The Redhawks started the overtime period strong, but weren’t able to take command of the game, eventually falling by two points. Kacie Sowell led the way for the Redhawks with 22 points as well as 14 rebounds. Sylvia Shephard had 14 points and 10 rebounds, joining Sowell with a double-double. Ashley Ward chipped in 17 more points, and Brenda Adhiambo contributed nine points and 10 rebounds in the effort.
After the game, Bonvicini commented on how her team was able to respond late and send the game
“We were down 10 with 5:06 [to play]. I really liked our intensity, but as I told the team, they’ve got to do that and be more consistent with that intensity and not wait until the very end.”
“I really wouldn’t consider it a rivalry, but they are a good team and they are in the same city as us,” said Shephard. “They are a bigger school so we’re considered an underdog. Other than that we both played a good game. It was a really back and forth game until the end.”
Seattle U dominated on the glass, grabbing 59 rebounds to the 36 of the Huskies, but weren’t able to overcome Washington’s three-point shooters, who made 12-30 for the game.
“For us, our players are really upbeat. They are disappointed they lost but we’re ready to win and I think we just need to practice a little bit more and work on some things,” Bonvicini said. “I think there were some points in the game where we had a lead and I think relaxed a little bit. We have to have more of a killer instinct.”
The loss was Seattle U’s second of the season, part of an 0-3 stretch that saw the Redhawks lose by a combined six points. They righted the ship shortly after however, winning a recent Thanksgiving Tournament that included Boston College, Sacred Heart and Portland. Seattle U was able to beat Portland in their opening game, 63-61, before knocking off Sacred Heart, the winner of the first matchup, 74-70. Sylvia Shephard garnered tournament MVP honors on her way to being named the College Sports Madness Western Athletic Conference player of the week.
In a subsequent interview, Bonvicini reflected on her time as a head coach and what 1,000 games coached meant to her. En route to 1,000 games coached, Bonvicini held jobs at Long Beach State, where she made two consecutive Final Four appearances in 1987 and 1988 and at the University of Arizona, where she is the all-time winningest coach in women’s basketball history. She is also the 18th women’s basketball coach to reach 600 wins.
“If you asked me, my absolute favorite part is the relationship with the players. I really enjoy talking with them. It keeps me young and it’s fun,” Bonvicini said. “The absolute, most favorite part is when the players are done playing, when they come back and just their memories to know that they had a good experience and that how much playing basketball, and being on a team, going through great times and tough times and how it impacts their lives now.”
She went on to talk about memories of both players and games, as well as the role that coaches play in being a mentor and teacher to students and young people.
“There’s an old adage, sometimes people say that sports build character. I don’t think that’s true. I think that coaches help build character and that the competitions reveal your character.”
As for continuing to compete and bring the same intensity each year, Bonvicini has no qualms with that. Every year she comes back with the same intensity and excitement as the year before due to the players and people she surrounds herself with.
“When you are around young people, it’s really fun. It keeps you young,” Bonvicini said. “They engage me. I really, really enjoy it. One of the reasons is I’m a real relationship person. I enjoy talking to the players, I enjoy listening, how things are in a lot of ways the same as what I’ve done 15, 20, even 30 years ago, and how things are different.”
Upcoming action for the team includes games against UC Irvine and Portland State at Connolly Center on Saturday, Dec. 1 and Sunday, Dec. 9, respectively, before a road trip sees the team face Pepperdine, BYU and Idaho.
The Idaho game marks the beginning of conference play as the Redhawks look to make their march to the NCAA tournament, finally being eligible as of this year. Seattle U was picked to finish fourth in the WAC behind Utah State, Louisiana Tech and Denver. Conference play will determine seeding for the WAC tournament, held in Reno, Nev. on Mar. 12-16, with the winner receiving an automatic birth to the 2013 NCAA Tournament.
Kevin may be reached at [email protected]